Just like a Dylan

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Bob Dylan means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but nailing down his true form is impossible.

On Aug. 20, 2005, Hunter S. Thompson's ashes were fired out of a cannon into the Colorado sky while, "Mr. Tambourine Man" played. I was previously familiar with his work, but it was around that time I began obsessing over Dylan's music and the mysterious man born Robert Zimmerman. 

For five decades, Bob Dylan has been to folk music what Miles Davis is to jazz – forever fluid in his adaption of techniques, sounds and arrangements to express his world-view and forever change the genetics of music in his wake. 

His songs have lived as anthems for generations across the globe while we watch the man master his craft.

Dylan will celebrate his 50th anniversary as a recording artist this year with the release of "Tempest," his 35th studio album Tuesday, Sept. 11.

There is no question as to what Dylan has brought to American music over the span of his career. 

When Dylan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 29, President Barack Obama said, "There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.  All these years later, he’s still chasing that sound, still searching for a little bit of truth.  And I have to say that I am a really big fan." 

After moving from Hibbing, Minn., to New York City, Dylan emulated Woody Guthrie and immersed himself in the folk music scene. 

Backed by an acoustic guitar and harmonica, Dylan's nasal voice resonated as a vehicle for authentic and culturally relevant lyrics.  

Dylan’s early songs used a structurally simplified musical style, but that just served as a contrast to the gravity of lyrics in "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin.”

These soft-spoken rallying cries spoke to those coming of age during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. 

Dylan’s topical songs helped people understand the harrowing truth of "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Hurricane" and "Who Killed Davey Moore."

Dylan saw the future of music.

In 1967 he recorded a music video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" featuring beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The song itself has been credited as a precursor to rap music. 

When Dylan performed with electric instruments at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, many fans felt he turned his back on the folk movement. He then used that resentment to fuel passionate lyrics in songs such as "Positively 4th Street."

Near the top of my favorite Dylan songs is "Like a Rolling Stone," from the 1965 album "Highway 61 Revisited."

The song invigorates my soul with a passionate pitch that rings true. Its energy builds as the Hammond organ blares and Dylan’s voice sounds exhausted with emotion by the time he reaches the second chorus. When the song ends, the listeners ask themselves, “How does it feel?”

Dylan employs wit and humor in his songs like "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues," and "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)."

These songs nearly contradict his protest persona and prove that Dylan’s at his best when he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Dylan began the 1970s with "New Morning," leading off with "If Not For You." Stuck in the middle of the B-side is "The Man in Me." It's one of my favorite Dylan songs; not just because it's featured in "The Big Lebowski," it's also Dylan describing his ever-changing reflection. It's a fun song that also features Al Kooper on the organ.

"I don't think I'm tangible to myself. I mean, I think one thing today and I think another thing tomorrow. I change during the course of a day. I wake and I'm one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I'm somebody else. I don't know who I am most of the time. It doesn't even matter to me."
– Bob Dylan. "Dylan Revisited," Newsweek Oct. 6, 1997. 

It is local lore that Levon Helm got the call to go to Big Pink in Woodstock to record with Dylan while he was playing with the Hawks at Tony Mart's in Somers Point. The recording sessions would later become known as “The Basement Tapes” and they would tour together as Bob Dylan and The Band.

Dylan found success with another band in the late 1980s when he formed the Traveling WIllburys with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Jim Keltner.

Dylan has produced some of his finest work in the past decade while producing his own albums under the pseudonym Jack Frost.

Beginning with the Grammy Award-winning “Love and Theft” released in 2001, Dylan has incorporated bluegrass, roots-rock and swing in recordings and on tour.

Modern Times,” released in 2006, absolutely holds up on multiple listens and includes one of my favorite songs. “Thunder on the Mountain” captures the freewheeling spirit of Dylan’s modern work with an up-tempo, toe-tapping start to the album.

In 2009, Dylan, who became a born-again Christian in the late 70s (although he disputes those claims), released “Christmas in the Heart.”

Alongside traditional Christmas songs, an accordion-fuelled “It Must be Santa,” harkens to the tongue-in-cheek Dylan from way back. Listeners will hear Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton pulling Santa’s sleigh alongside the reindeer.

I have seen Dylan perform on the “Never Ending Tour” twice since 2007. Most recently in 2010 at The Borgata, Dylan maintained an astounding stage presence. He even played three songs on the guitar and mostly on piano through a powerful 14-song set and a two-song encore ending with a bluegrass jam of “Like a Rolling Stone.”

During 2009’s Ballpark Tour with Willie Nelson and the surprisingly great John (Cougar) Mellencamp, Dylan had a crowd of absolutely soaked fans cheering for more at the Lakewood Blue Claws’ stadium.

Early in his career, Dylan spoke of wisdom beyond his years and now he fits the role of elder statesman of American music.

The upcoming album has already received some great reviews. The album is being streamed on iTunes for free before Sept. 11 and you can hear it by visiting itunes.com/bobdylan (iTunes is required to listen).

A few days ago, @pennjillette tweeted: “As a child listening to ‘Blonde on Blonde’ I wouldn't have believed that Dylan's best would be in the 21st Century. "Tempest" WOW WOW WOW.”

Next Saturday, I’ll review “Tempest.” Until then, you can listen to the stream and watch a video for the track “Duquesne Whistle” or listen to the track via NPR.org.

Staying ahead of the curve, Dylan is also streaming his album from various locations across the States. The closest to South Jersey is Philadelphia. Basically if you see the album cover printed in one of the locations, you can scan it with a smartphone and the album will stream while you are in the area. See www.listentobobdylan.com.

What's your favorite Dylan album? Leave it in the comments below or comment on Twitter with #TheHighNote.

“Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind

Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves

The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach

Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free

Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands

With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves

Let me forget about today until tomorrow


Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me

I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me

In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.”

- “Mr. Tambourine Man.” 

*Spotify required to listen to Shaun's favorite Dylan songs

See the High Note blog every Saturday on www.shorenewstoday.com. Comment on Twitter using #TheHighNote




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